“The preparation of this classic for the English-speaking world makes one of the most important and powerful survivor accounts of Auschwitz accessible to the West, and introduces general readers to the mind and experience of a crucially placed and astonishingly observant witness to the Holocaust. In the first-person literature created by survivors and victims in the ghettos and concentration camps, People in Auschwitz ranks as an historical document with works like The Warsaw Diary of Adam Czerniakow, and the memoirs of Buchenwald survivor Eugen Kogon, The Theory and Practice of Hell. Langbein’s epic, at long last, also serves as a moral antidote and historical counterweight to the memoirs of the notorious Commandant of Auschwitz, Rudolf Hoess, first published nearly fifty years ago.”
— Charles W. Sydnor Jr., author of Soldiers of Destruction: The SS Death’s Head Division, 1933–1945
Hermann Langbein was allowed to know and see extraordinary things forbidden to other Auschwitz inmates. Interned at Auschwitz in 1942 and classified as a non-Jewish political prisoner, he was assigned as clerk to the chief SS physician of the extermination camp complex, which gave him access to documents, conversations, and actions that would have remained unknown to history were it not for his witness and his subsequent research. Also a member of the Auschwitz resistance, Langbein sometimes found himself in a position to influence events, though at his peril.
People in Auschwitz is very different from other works on the most infamous of Nazi annihilation centers. Langbein’s account is a scrupulously scholarly achievement intertwining his own experiences with quotations from other inmates, SS guards and administrators, civilian industry and military personnel, and official documents. Whether his recounting deals with captors or inmates, Langbein analyzes the events and their context objectively, in an unemotional style, rendering a narrative that is unique in the history of the Holocaust. This monumental book helps us comprehend what has so tenaciously challenged understanding.
“Hermann Langbein, then a communist activist, was a leading member of the underground movement in Auschwitz concentration camp, and an acute observer of the situation there. His memoir is one of the foundation stones of research on Auschwitz, an indispensable contribution to the complex and fearsome reality of the camp.”
— Yehuda Bauer, director of the International School for Holocaust Studies at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem
Hermann Langbein (1912–1995) was born in Vienna. In 1938 he was a member of the International Brigade in the Spanish Civil War, then he was interned in various French camps. Following the German conquest, he was transferred to Dachau, then to Auschwitz, where he remained for two years. There he was a leading participant in the international resistance organization in the camp. After liberation he became general secretary of the International Auschwitz Committee and later secretary of the Comité International des Camps. Among the many important works he wrote or edited are Against All Hope: Resistance in the Nazi Concentration Camps, 1938–1945 and Nazi Mass Murder: A Documentary History of the Use of Poison Gas. Harry Zohn (1923–2001) wrote, edited, or translated forty books, including a translation of Langbein’s Against All Hope: Resistance in the Nazi Concentration Camps, 1938–1945.